We are all shocked and horrified by the case of child abuse that recently emerged in California, but we can be sure that the signs were there.
Consider children who rarely appeared but, when they did, appeared gaunt, extremely pale and abnormally thin; frightened looks on the children’s faces as a parent hovered over them; strange schedules and isolating behaviour, with neighbours noticing the family staying up all night and sleeping all day; witnessing the children marching up and down the stairs for hours in the middle of the night and early hours of the morning; a college student whose mother waited outside his classroom door while he attended classes, never letting him out of her sight. All of these were potential warning signs that something wasn’t right.
While the first instinct is to deny knowledge after a horrifying case like this becomes public, the reality is that some are now piecing together the signs that something was wrong. Neighbours, friends or family had warning signs in front of them. This family lived in the middle of an average neighbourhood, surrounded by other people. They took trips to Disneyland, and occasionally went out in the public.
After this particular case of domestic abuse became public, neighbours offered up their own stories and thoughts about the red flags they noticed. Yet none of these people alerted authorities to the possibility of child abuse. How is it that such an awful case can go undetected for so long?
“Mind your own business” has become a guiding principle in our modern day lifestyle. In many communities, it’s common to have next to little interaction with neighbours. This attitude breeds isolation. What happened to looking out for one another? Neighbours, family members, and even the people who discovered their previous home in appalling condition all saw the warning signs. In more than a decade, not one single person who came into contact with the family felt compelled to call the police or child welfare officials.
It can be difficult to know what to say and do when we suspect someone is experiencing abuse. See It, Name It, Check It is a simple tool that you can use as a guideline for having a conversation when you are worried about someone. It’s not as hard as you might think and small actions can make a big difference, even save lives.
Please take a moment to learn the warning signs of domestic abuse. If you see something suspicious or sense a child or woman is in danger, don’t hesitate to make the phone call. In Ontario, there is a clear legal duty to report child abuse or neglect.
The power of regret is strong. Like this disturbing case shows us, we can, and should, be doing better. Hopefully this case is a lesson that will provoke change.